‘Unacceptable’ M-STEP delays prompt contract changes

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A vendor will reinvest proceeds in Michigan schools and the Department of Education will build future penalties into the contract after “unacceptable” reporting delays diminished the relevance of the state’s new standardized test.

Detroit News file

“At the end of the day, we know this has to be substantially better, and we’re committed to doing that,” Deputy Superintendent for Accountability Services Venessa Keesler told legislators during Thursday testimony before the House Education Committee.

The Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, a mostly online exam taken for the first time last spring, is a more rigorous assessment than the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, which it replaced. Results are expected to inform educational decisions by school districts, teachers and parents.

But the state did not provide schools with full individual student reports until Nov. 17, well after the current academic year began, Keesler said. All parent reports were delivered to schools by Jan. 4, meaning some parents are just now learning how their children fared.

“The test didn’t mean anything. It’s a giveaway of a year, in essence,” said Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, who added he has been inundated with questions from parents concerned about how much class time was devoted to the assessment.

“How is receiving this nine months into the year supposed to really be a benefit to anybody? …I feel like this is the week of us hearing government doing things that are not acceptable,” he said, referring to the Flint contaminated water crisis.

Keesler acknowledged the results were released too late for parents “to change much about what is happening for your student” this year, but said the results will help schools craft improvement plans for next year.

Fewer than half of Michigan students who took the M-STEP in 2015 rated proficient in math, science and English. Officials expected low scores because it was a more rigorous assessment than previous tests.

The education department and Measurement Inc., one of two vendors hired for M-STEP administration and analysis, are negotiating a modified state contract that will include funding penalties if reporting deadlines are not met in future years.

The state also has asked Measurement Inc. to reinvest a portion of its contracted funding into technology upgrades at Michigan schools. President and founder Hank Scherich told The Detroit News his company has offered to spend $400,000 of the roughly $500,000 it received to produce reports on the first M-STEP.

“We’re eating a little bit,” said Scherich, who told legislators he was disappointed to visit them under such circumstances. The company has contracted with the state since 2007 and recently signed a $63 million deal for the administration, scoring and reporting of statewide assessments for the next three years.

The Department of Education’s Technology Readiness Committee is reaching out to districts to determine how the $400,000 could best be spent, Keesler said.

Reporting delays were largely the result of a new assessment and an aggressive implementation time line, said Scherich, who vowed to stay on schedule next year now that reporting processes have been created.

“The schedule was brutal,” he said, “to get a new test out and to get all these school reports done. The parent report is only one. There were 22 different reports that had to be created. … We were not able to deliver the reports on the schedule that was originally there. Not for lack of effort, but it was a task that was too large.”

Students in grades 3-8 are scheduled to take the 2016 M-STEP this spring. Eleventh graders will take the SAT college entrance exam and M-STEP science and social studies assessments.

In addition to building penalties into the vendor contract, Keesler said department will assign more staff and make management changes with the goal of getting all reports out by the beginning of the next school year.

“This is do or die for us this year,” Keesler told legislators. “This year, the data has to come back, because we won’t get another chance at ‘Oops, sorry.’”